One-third of the world’s food produced is wasted: a staggering 1.3bn tonnes. It would take an area the size of Wales to grow the 4.5m tonnes of edible food that’s wasted in UK households alone. A recent analysis of household refuse in Brighton and Hove found that a half of the food that ended up in the bin never left its wrapping. And it’s costing us dearly: on average a family of four spends £60 per month on food that ends up in the bin.
While mountains of edible food are jettisoned each day, 8.4m people across the country struggle to feed themselves, and it was recently reported that the UK now has more food banks than McDonalds outlets.
Wasting food feeds climate change
Even if the inequity doesn’t move you, throwing away good food is a waste of resources. The energy and water used to grow, process, transport and store that food means it carries a huge carbon footprint. Food waste contributes 8-10 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, significantly more than global aviation. Producing food is also to the detriment of wildlife and biodiversity through the loss of natural habitats. All in all, food waste is costing our planet very dearly indeed.
Reasons why we throw away food are multiple and where and how we shop is key. Supermarkets want us to buy as much as possible. Back in the 1920s, the retail giant Tesco was founded on Jack Cohen’s ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’ philosophy. One hundred years later, this business model remains in force.
Operating on very low margins means relying on volume to generate profit. The convenience of buying everything for the week in one go means we cram our cupboards full and forget what’s in there until it’s too late.
Tricks that prompt you to buy more
Retailers know exactly how to weaken our resolve and get us to overbuy – the tempting BOGOF deal, the eye-catching treat gently calling your name. It’s hard to resist. Supermarkets are meticulously managed to tempt you into buying what you don’t need.
Ever wondered why the essentials are placed at the back of the store and often very far from each other? It’s why you have to hunt up and down the aisles, past all the seductive non-essentials to find the eggs. You may not notice, but even the piped in smells and sounds are carefully curated to get you buying more things you don’t need.
Then there’s confusion over date labels – the ‘best before’ and the ‘sell by’ are for retailers, but many of us confuse them with the ‘use by’ date and end up binning perfectly safe and edible food.
Our busy lives are a recipe for food waste. We shop aspirationally. All the dishes we concoct in our minds during the shop tend to evaporate when we arrive home hungry and exhausted. Finding forgotten ingredients, way past their best, is testament to times when you opted for a last-minute takeaway or reached into the freezer to find something quick to whack in the oven. And to think that shrivelled aubergine travelled half way round the globe to delight your taste buds.
Finally, there is our lack of self-awareness over food waste. You’ll struggle to find anyone who will confess to it: while people will go into great detail about how they use every drop and crumb, the evidence is in our bins. It’s only when we actually measure what we throw away in a day or week and multiply that over a year that the penny drops. Quite a few pennies actually. Keeping a food waste diary is sure to find your weak spots.
By the same author
- Fixing our faulty food system: how community partnerships work
- Recipe for success: how hands-on volunteers battle food poverty
So, knowing why we waste food and the impact it’s having on our planet and our purse, what is to be done? Well, the British waste-busting charity, WRAP, has surveyed citizens and discovered that while 81 per cent of us are concerned by climate change, only 32 per cent connect food waste as a contributing factor.
In a bid to address this, they have come up with Food Waste Action Week, a nationwide campaign running from 7 to 13 March 2022. Thousands of individuals and organisations are set to get involved, led by a celebrity chef and a sprinkle of social influencers. This year the focus will be particularly emotive, getting us to think about how animals are impacted by climate change. Cue David Attenborough: it’s not only us that’s impacted by floods, droughts, forest fires and melting ice caps after all.
Take the Food Waste Challenge
We’ve had a go at Veganuary and dry January, so this March why not give the food waste action week challenge a go? After all, you’ve nothing to lose and much to gain.
Take a ‘shelfie’ of your food cupboard and make a list before your next shop so you know exactly what you need. Better still, make a meal plan for the week so you only buy what you need. Beware of those supermarket deals that tempt you to over-buy; will you really use it?
Many of us have our fridge temperature too high which can cause food to perish quicker than it should. Buy a fridge thermometer and make sure you set your fridge to between 2-5 degrees.
Did you know that you can eat broccoli stalks and leave the potato skins on? Find out more in this compl-eat-ing guide.
Reinvent your leftovers. Find the perfect leftover recipe here.
Not sure where to store your potatoes to make them last longer? Try this A-Z of food storage.
It’s easy to cook too much pasta or find your veg has shrunk, so check out this great portion planner so you know how much to use per person.
How did you get on? If you even do one of these seven challenges, you’ll be joining in this important fight against food waste, one of the biggest contributors to climate change.
Get in touch with Love Food Hate Waste on firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow @SussexBylines on social media